The moral basis for The Labour Party's backing of "Terminator" technology is called into question by moves by Syngenta to register a patent on "Terminator" potatoes internationally.
New Zealand's Labour-led government is one of a handful of governments to reject a defacto moratorium on Terminator technology supported by the rest of the world.
But the threat to poor farmers in developing countries has been brought into sharp focus by a coalition of indigenous peoples in the Andes who warn that Syngenta's patents are a signal they plan to commercialise �Terminator technology�.
The Andes is the centre of diversity for potatoes and there are fears that the move will threaten more than 3,000 local potato varieties that form the basis of livelihoods and culture for millions of poor people in the region.
Syngenta has reportedly been granted Terminator potato patents in Australia and Russia and has also applied for similar patents in Europe, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt and Poland.
The coalition represented by indigenous farmers wants Syngenta to publicly disown the patent, which describes a genetic-modification process that could be used to stop potatoes from sprouting unless a chemical is applied.
In 2000 the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recommended that governments not field-test or commercialise genetic seed sterilisation technologies - thus creating a de-facto international moratorium. In 2006, the CBD rejected a proposal - backed by Australia, Canada and New Zealand - to allow field trials of the crops on a
"The Labour Party has failed to respond to the very real ethical and social issues that Terminator technology raises, and have even denied an informal moratorium exists," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment.
"Now we have a company patenting an approach akin to "Verminator" technology (nicknamed by the UK media because it used a gene derived from rats), that would require farmers to pay for, and apply a chemical to make the plants grow at all."
One concern for the Peruvian indigenous communities is that the Terminator potatoes will contaminate local varieties and destroy their traditions of storing and exchanging potato tubers for future planting. With "Terminator" seeds are made infertile after the first planting; with "Verminator" the plants won't grow at all unless a chemical is used to activate them.
"The Labour Party must review its policy of supporting Terminator 'case by case' and of ignoring the global defacto moratorium," says Jon Carapiet.
The New Zealand government's failure to join with the rest of the international community in supporting a moratorium, (so that the serious social and ethical issues are considered before commercial development of "Terminator"), is a moral failure largely driven by expectations of profit from life-patents.
The New Zealand government should make clear its desire to keep faith with farmers in the developing world and at home, and get behind the moratorium now.
Jon Carapiet 0210507681
'Insulted' Andean farmers pick GM potato fight with multinational
AUTHOR: International Institute for Environment and Development and the
Quechua-Ayamara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development
PUBLICATION: Press release
DATE: 12 January 2007
URL: http://www.iied.org and http://www.andes.org.pe
'INSULTED' ANDEAN FARMERS PICK GM POTATO FIGHT WITH
A coalition of indigenous farmers in South America will today (12 January) launch an international protest against the multinational corporation Syngenta, claiming that its plans threaten their region's biodiversity, culture and food sovereignty.
In an open letter signed today by representatives of 34 indigenous communities in Peru, the coalition says Syngenta's claims that its patent for 'terminator technology' potatoes is neither relevant nor applicable in the region are "deeply offensive".
The Indigenous Coalition Against Biopiracy in the Andes says that by commercialising such potatoes, the corporation would threaten more than 3,000 local potato varieties that form the basis of livelihoods and culture for millions of poor people.
It wants Syngenta to publicly disown the patent, which describes a genetic-modification process that could be used to stop potatoes from sprouting unless a chemical is applied.
Terminator technology refers to genetic modifications that 'switch off' seed fertility, and can therefore prevent farmers from using, storing and sharing seeds and storage organs such as potato tubers.
Although there has been a global moratorium on the field-testing and commercial use of terminator technologies since 2000, research into them continues and some countries and corporations want the ban relaxed.
"Syngenta's pursuit of terminator potato patents in Europe, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt and Poland -- in addition to granted patents in Australia and Russia -- demonstrates its investment in the technology and interest in commercialising it," states the letter. "No trade barriers nor regulatory system would be in place in Peru to keep terminator potatoes from contaminating native potatoes."
Peru and its Andean neighbours are the potato's centre of diversity -- with nearly 4,000 unique varieties that farmers have developed over generations. Before reaching its position, the coalition undertook a lengthy discussion with farmers across the region.
Farmers are concerned that terminator potatoes will enter the Andean production system and destroy their traditions of storing and exchanging potato tubers for future planting. This is central to the farmers' culture and has contributed to the region's immense diversity of potato varieties.
They also fear that pollen from the modified potatoes could contaminate local varieties and prevent their tubers from sprouting.
"We feel greatly disrespected by corporations that make a single genetic alteration to a plant and then claim private ownership when these plants are the result of thousands of years of careful breeding by indigenous people," says Argumedo.
"Making farmers depend on chemicals they do not want to use, and preventing them from saving and reusing seeds and tubers, merely increases corporate control over the global food system."
Last year, a Syngenta shareholder hand-delivered a letter outlining the coalition's concerns to the corporation's CEO Michael Pragnell.
"We received an insulting letter in reply," says Alejandro Argumedo of Asociaci�n ANDES, a founding member of the coalition. "Syngenta disregards our culture, values and our right to use the tubers of a resource that our peoples have nurtured for millennia. Introducing 'terminator technology' potatoes could create major problems for farmers
in the Andes."
Syngenta says it has a policy not to use terminator technology but defines the term solely as a "hypothetical process, which leads to plants with infertile seeds", adding that it was patented by another company in 1998.
In March 2004, however, Syngenta was granted its own patent (US patent 6,700,039) for a genetic modification process that stops tubers � plant storage organs such as potatoes -- from sprouting unless an external chemical is applied.
"While distancing itself from the prevention of seed germination, Syngenta remains keen to prevent potato tuber development," says Argumedo. "For Andean farmers, this is the same thing."
The coalition is calling for support from the international community, including the World Council of Churches, which lobbies for political change that supports the world's poorest communities.
In May 2006, the council's general secretary Samuel Kobia issued a statement condemning terminator technology. "Preventing farmers from re-planting saved seed will increase economic injustice all over the world and add to the burdens of those already living in hardship," he said.
The coalition finalised its letter at a meeting held on 11-12 January in Lares, Cusco, Peru. The meeting was organised by Asociaci�n ANDES (the Quechua-Ayamara Association for Sustainable Livelihoods) with support from the International Institute for Environment and Development.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Alejandro Argumedo (ANDES) 00 51 1 955 82372
Andean Farmers Oppose Syngenta�s Terminator Potatoes
The Indigenous Coalition Against Biopiracy in the Andes will today (12 January) launch a protest against Syngenta claiming that its plans to commercialise �terminator technology� potatoes would threaten more than 3,000 local potato varieties that form the basis of livelihoods and culture for millions of poor people in the region.
Syngenta has been granted terminator potato patents in Australia and Russia and has also applied for similar patents in Europe, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt and Poland.
The coalition, which is represented by indigenous farmers, wants Syngenta to publicly disown the patent, which describes a genetic-modification process that could be used to stop potatoes from sprouting unless a chemical is applied.
They are worried that the terminator potatoes will contaminate local varieties and destroy their traditions of storing and exchanging potato tubers for future planting as terminator seeds are infertile after the first planting.
There is currently a de facto global moratorium on the field-testing and commercial use of terminator technologies though some countries and corporations want the ban to be relaxed.
The Andean countries are the potato's centre of diversity -- with nearly 4,000 unique varieties that farmers have developed over generations.
Chee Yoke Heong
Third World Network
Website: www.biosafety-info.net and www.twnside.org.sg